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Sunday Notre Dame Notebook: Atmosphere, crowd & turnovers doomed Irish from outset

Jaquin Johnson

Miami defensive back Jaquan Johnson (4) runs after intercepting the football during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)


Notre Dame simply was not ready for Miami on Saturday. By the time the first quarter ended and the Hurricanes were posed to build on a 14-0 lead, that was quite apparent. With hindsight, Irish coach Brian Kelly can see the reasons for the 41-8 loss were already at hand before his team even took the field.

“In retrospect, it was a big game, there was a lot to the atmosphere,” Kelly said Sunday. “Our guys really wanted to win. They wanted to win really, really bad.

“I have to do a better job of keeping them in a moment and keeping them from being distracted by all of that’s going on around them.”

Kelly detected a bit more pregame energy in the Notre Dame locker room due to the stakes and the surroundings. Though the Irish routinely play in front of bigger crowds and have twice faced top-15 teams in recent weeks, there was a different feel in Hard Rock Stadium.

“I’ve never given [big games and atmosphere] too much thought, because we play in a big game atmosphere at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “But this one was a little bit different. A number of these kids hadn’t played in a game of this magnitude, since maybe the [2015] Clemson game, and I don’t know if there were many defensive players on the field for that.

“We’ll have to take a good close look at that of making sure we prepare our guys. I have to do a better job of making sure they are in the moment.”

Tracing back to that No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 11 Clemson game, only now-junior, then-freshman defensive tackle Jerry Tillery recorded a defensive tackle that day, making four. Six other current Irish defenders saw the field, including now-senior, then-sophomore defensive back Nick Coleman making a special teams tackle.

Those jitters showed immediately after each of Notre Dame’s first two turnovers Saturday. Once the Hard Rock crowd was, well, rocking, Miami had little trouble finding the end zone, including covering 32 yards in two plays to go up 14-0.

Those turnovers were a worst-case possibility realized.
Kelly insisted Saturday night he saw none of the Hurricanes onslaught coming. If he anticipated it at all, he expected it to be predicated on turnovers.

“If I saw the turnover chain passed around the bench like Gatorade, that was probably going to be my biggest concern,” he said. “Unfortunately that came to fruition.”

He described junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s first interception as “a bit of a high throw … that should be executed.” The second was thrown behind intended target sophomore receiver Chase Claypool.

“That’s just being more accurate and being on time with the throw.”

Sophomore quarterback Ian Book’s miscue came on misreading the coverage, identifying what was a man defense as a zone.

“We have to coach him better in that situation.”

The fourth turnover, a strip-sack fumble in the fourth quarter, could have been avoided only if Wimbush had felt the pressure and stepped up in the pocket.

“We have to demand that in practice there’s that attention to detail,” Kelly said. “Because the process really escaped us in some of those turnovers and that really was a major problem for us Saturday night.”

On injuries
Junior running back Josh Adams suffered a neck sprain Saturday night, but Kelly was not worried about any lasting effects with Navy arriving at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.

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